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Transmeta power savings not great enough, IBM says

Big Blue acknowledges that it suspended its plans to come out with a Crusoe-based notebook because the chip didn't provide real gains in battery performance.

LAS VEGAS--IBM suspended its plans to come out with a notebook with a Crusoe processor from Transmeta because the chip didn't provide real gains in battery performance, an IBM executive said Wednesday.

Comdex 2000:
Back to the future "We found that we didn't get a quantum leap in battery performance," Leo Suarez, director of worldwide product marketing for IBM Mobile Systems, said in an interview with CNET at the Comdex trade show here. "The (energy) savings at a system level were comparable" to a notebook containing a similar chip from Intel.

Suarez's statement will help resolve the swirling rumors surrounding IBM's cancellation of its Crusoe project last month. Many had speculated on the reasons behind the reversal. But until Wednesday, high-level IBM executives had not commented on the cancellation.

IBM still is likely to come out with an ultrathin notebook with a low-power chip next year, but that notebook will in all probability contain a "low, low" voltage Pentium III, Suarez said. Prototypes of the ThinkPad using the ultra-low-power Pentium III, which is set to come out in the middle of 2001, have been on display at Comdex.

"We took that same box and put in (an ultra-low-power) Pentium III," he said. "Most likely, yes, we will bring a small form factor like that."

In June at New York's PC Expo, IBM showed off a prototype notebook containing a Crusoe chip and stated the company would likely come out with a Transmeta-based notebook assuming the chip met IBM's standards. According to Transmeta, Crusoe processors consume less power than ordinary chips and hence increase battery life.

However, IBM found some, but not substantial, leaps in battery performance. The prototype ThinkPad containing the Crusoe chip could run for less than six hours on a single battery charge, Suarez said. IBM was shooting for seven hours and probably would have been willing to go with the chip if battery power started to approach eight hours.

Because introducing a new chip involves extra research and marketing tasks, IBM decided to suspend the effort.

"We got comparable savings, so now I have an established processor vs. a nonestablished processor," Suarez said. "You have to break in a new brand, and that is not my job to do."

Although the Crusoe processor didn't provide a quantum leap in battery life, the chip performed adequately for the class of notebooks that IBM was examining, Suarez said. Transmeta's chips include a software technology called code morphing that extends battery life but slows down how fast applications run. Analysts have debated how much of a performance hit notebooks would experience.

"In this class of box, performance is a nonissue," Suarez said. "The performance was never an issue on this thing. It was always battery life and system weight and system size."

Suarez nonetheless said that IBM will continue to examine Crusoe. Earlier this week, Transmeta CEO Dave Ditzel said the company is coming out with a new version of its code-morphing software that will reduce power consumption even further and get the chip below Intel's upcoming ultra-low-power Pentium III.